I have played basketball for 11 years of my life. Throughout it, there were only a couple things that I disliked, yet one stood out in particular. It was the moments where me or my team were criticised by people who had no experience in playing or coaching basketball and all of their knowledge came from just watching the game. Frustration followed, yet it rarely led to motivation, rather only more pressure mounted on me. Nonetheless, comparatively, I cannot complain to the extent that professional athletes could. The only attention I received was from somebody’s parents, while sports stars are criticised daily on national television by sport journalists.
Everything for Entertainment?
Sports have a tremendous role in the media and entertainment sphere, generating large numbers of viewership, and consequently, making large profits for broadcasters and sport networks. Just to put this in perspective, the US sports media market was worth almost $23 billion last year, accounting for 44% of the global sports media market, and the numbers are only projected to grow. Although most of the markets revenue come from broadcasting, debating shows on such networks as ESPN have been steadily gaining attention, in which sport journalists discuss the games, criticise or uplift player performances and teams’ abilities, which bring another underlying layer of entertainment for the public.
The mechanism of the way media works is quite similar to the theory of two-step flow communication. The mass media produces the content, as in, they broadcast the game on large networks, and the content of those games get consumed and interpreted by sport journalists, who can be considered opinion leaders. Those opinion leaders then spread information about the games, which the public consumes. Yet, those opinion leaders are often biased, or are focused on developing a narrative which earns them profit. Ultimately, although not necessarily with an intention, it can determine or influence the career of an athlete, by either having an uplifting or detrimental impact.
The Mechanics of Sports Media
First of all, sports journalists have an effect on the image formation of professional athletes, thus they can possibly affect their contracts, sponsorship deals and the amount of fans that they have. All of these three components are essential in the livelihood of a professional athlete’s career. Yet, it is recognisable that the media is often searching for athletes that fall in their categories of attraction. Seemingly, although a content analysis would be useful, those categories of attraction are “how great the athlete really is”, “how controversial the athlete is”, “whether the athlete has an inspiring story” and “whether he is worth the money”. This is deeply related to framing, as it only exposes a singular aspect of the story about an athlete while indirectly minimizing other aspects. It is significant, as it could directly impact the three components named before. If they do not fall in the categories of attraction and they cannot be framed in such a way, the three components are affected.
Moreover, the athlete’s value is often not determined by his raw talent and skill level, but also on their relationship with the media and team’s success.
For example, the NFL megastar Tom Brady has gained millions of fans and sponsor deals not only because of his talent and skill level, but also because of the inspiring story behind him; he was the underdog in the draft that had no expectations of becoming the face of the league. At the same time, the media love to “hype up” young players that have shined in their amateur careers and set a bar of expectations they should reach. Yet, when they do not reach that bar the sports media not only forgets about them, but also calls them a “bust”. This is problematic from the point of an athlete, as it could affect the way that sports organisations and fans view the athlete, ultimately affecting their livelihood.
Moreover, the athlete’s value is often not determined by his raw talent and skill level, but also on their relationship with the media and team’s success. For example, the NBA superstar Kyrie Irving has been bashed by the media for what he deserved, as he once stated that he believes the world is flat. Yet, he has also been blamed for something that was not necessarily his fault. The lack of team success that he had during the past few seasons, resulted in him taking the most criticism for it, as he was regarded as a teammate that caused a toxic environment in the team. Moreover, Kyrie had been passive in involvement with the media and had referred to it in a negative light. While, luckily for Irving, he still landed a contract, there was significantly less interest in him in the league, because the men in suits had determined the aforementioned narrative.
Although most of the sports debate shows are made for entertainment purposes, it still has an unquestionable effect on people that have spent mostly their whole life on a sport that they are talented at.
The Mental Ramifications
While the top professional athletes usually earn more than an average human, they are not immune to the constant media criticism they receive. Many would point to their enormous wealth they have earned as the main reason why they have no justification to be affected by the sports media. Yet, to put this into perspective, imagine if you went to work every day while also putting extra work, and still get criticised for every bad day you had at work. Not only that, but usually, you are being criticised by people that have never done your job at your level. For some, this is a motivation to work even harder to not get criticised, yet, some feel enormous anxiety and pressure. More and more professional athletes have stood up and exposed their natural vulnerability in terms of mental health, simultaneously bringing notice to the fact that they see and hear criticism that is being broadcasted to millions every day. It is beyond a reasonable doubt that the psychological effect, which makes the self-confidence of an athlete shiver, has an effect on his performance, which ultimately influences his or her career.
Although most of the sports debate shows are made for entertainment purposes, it still has an unquestionable effect on people that have spent mostly their whole life on a sport that they are talented at. While I do not believe that the men in suits have any intention to harm any athlete’s career, it is truly interesting to notice how much sport has become a form of narrative based entertainment.
Cover: Markus Winkler